ROBERT COSTA: Democrats launch an impeachment inquiry and the White House prepares for battle. How does this change the 2020 presidential race? This is the Washington Week Extra.
Hello. I’m Robert Costa. On this week’s Extra we continue our discussion on a historic week that saw Speaker Pelosi launch an impeachment inquiry probing whether President Trump abused his power. According to a whistleblower, the president urged the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate his political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, and his son Hunter, who once served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Biden, of course, is also a former vice president who has been a leading Democratic primary contender and leading the polls consistently, beating President Trump in head-to-head surveys. Biden had this to say when campaigning in Delaware on Tuesday.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue; it is a national issue. It is a security issue.
MR. COSTA: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is running close to Biden in the polls and led a recent Iowa poll, had this to say at a stop in New Hampshire on Wednesday.
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): (From video.) For me it’s straightforward. This is not a matter of politics; this is a matter of constitutional responsibility. It is time for impeachment now.
MR. COSTA: Joining me tonight, Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS NewsHour; Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post; Nancy Cordes, chief congressional correspondent for CBS News; and Kaitlan Collins, White House correspondent for CNN.
Yamiche, how does this change 2020? You covered the 2016 presidential race. You covered the Democratic primary. It’s not – we didn’t get time to discuss it in the show, but Vice President Biden, Senator Warren, all of their competitors are watching what’s unfolding with the impeachment debate, and what are they saying behind the scenes to you and other reporters?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: I think it’s tough to see how this impacts the 2020 election, and I say that because we did a poll at PBS NewsHour with NPR and Marist and the majority of the people that we polled said that this would have no factor in how they voted in 2020; that all of this information about this call with Ukraine and President Trump possibly pressuring the president of Ukraine for his own political gain wouldn’t impact who they were voting for. So I think on that – on the – on the Republican side that’s what you see. On the Democratic side, in terms of who they might choose as a primary – as a primary candidate, I think that that is still tough to say. We now have Joe Biden has really new, fresh things to talk about, and Joe Biden in some polls was now starting to fall and Elizabeth Warren was on the rise. This might give Joe Biden just more airtime, and that might let people actually rethink him, but I’m still really I think thinking through how candidates really are going to be impacted by this.
NANCY CORDES: I think there are pluses and minuses for Joe Biden here. First of all, he’s getting all the attention, and when you’re in a crowded field of 20 or so people that’s helpful. He’s also getting to fight on territory that’s more comfortable for him – foreign policy, taking on Trump directly. This is – you know, this is his comfort zone, as opposed to, you know, maybe battling it out over race, which he doesn’t do as well at. On the other hand, it’s highlighting the way that some of his family members for decades appear to have profited off of his power and status, and for Democrats who are trying to make the case that the president and his family have benefited from his position in the White House it makes it a lot difficult – more difficult to make that case if your nominee is someone whose family has done the same thing.
MS. ALCINDOR: Just to say I was in South Carolina talking to voters and I was struck by the idea that so many people don’t know the names of all the people running. I think in Washington, D.C. we know Senator Harris, Senator Booker. These are people who have been kind of stars in D.C. I had multiple interviews with people who said, oh, I like Joe Biden, but who else is running? Is there – Bernie Sanders is running, maybe that Elizabeth Warren, and then they were done; they didn’t know any other names. So even though Joe Biden might have, as you say, those challenges, he really is benefitting from the idea that he was the vice president of the United States and that a lot of African American voters, who are a key part of the Democrats’ base, they still think of him as Obama’s guy. They say, I’m not going to overrule President Obama; if Joe Biden was good enough for Obama, he’s going to be good enough for me. I heard that from a lot of voters.
MR. COSTA: Phil, you look at the Democratic debate, for months it’s been about Medicare for All versus adding a public option to the current healthcare law. Does this now inject a new dynamic into that discussion?
PHILIP RUCKER: It could. I mean, it certainly makes that discussion that’s been playing out in the Democratic primary feel very secondary to what’s happening on Capitol Hill and here in Washington. And it’ll probably stay that way until there’s some sort of resolution to these impeachment proceedings. You know, the danger for Biden is that he can talk about it, and it is his, you know, forte foreign policy. But Trump is going to continue to try to make this a cloud that hangs over his candidacy until the very end. And there’s a risk factor here that Democrats might become exhausted by it, might feel like it’s too much baggage, might feel deja vu about Hillary Clinton and the emails. Not that they think Biden did anything incriminating, but that it’s just kind of in the air, and that it hurts his candidacy. And he’s got to deal with that.
MR. COSTA: Just to be clear, this is from The Washington Post, “Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that came under scrutiny by authorities there. He was not accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation. As vice president, Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor who Biden and other Western officials said was not sufficiently pursuing corruption cases. At the same, the Ukrainians’ investigation was dormant.” And that’s according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials.
On the Trump side he has a few primary challengers – former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld; Joe Walsh, the former Illinois congressman; Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina. Does the impeachment specter change that race at all?
KAITLAN COLLINS: Well, you were talking about the pluses and minuses for Joe Biden. Same for Trump. The plus is that people think, wow, they really are out to get him, and no matter what he does he can’t win. And his entire presidency has been just people attacking him and saying he’s guilty of stuff. And the Russia investigation will be their primary thing that they point to that for so long they were led to believe there was something there, and then of course in the end it didn’t trigger impeachment like people thought it could potentially.
The negative for Trump and his campaign as they go through this and he’s got these Republican potentially competitors who aren’t taken very seriously is that people do get sick of the chaos, and it’s something that they constantly see around President Trump. And that’s what you hear from a lot of people when you’re on the road too. They like Trump, they like what he’s doing. They do get tired of the constant negativity, and chaos, and tweets, and madness that they just haven’t seen from a president before.
MR. COSTA: That gets to this question about suburban voters in 2020. Whether you’re running for president or you’re running for Senate or for the House. Those are the voters who swung the races in 2018. And maybe they get a little wary of President Trump if impeachment becomes a thing. Or maybe they get turned off by the Democrats.
MS. CORDES: Particularly women voters, and particularly when the president is resurrecting a lot of the same phrases that he used with the Mueller report, when he’s talking about, you know, no collusion, and this is all witch hunt. You know, people might believe that the first time, but when you’re constantly claiming that you’re the subject of a witch hunt, you know, after a while some of his supporters may start to wonder, well, really? Or could there be more there?
MR. COSTA: Well, an impeachment proceeding in the House. An election looming ahead in November 2020. Are you all ready? It’s been one week of all of this. (Laughter.)
MS. ALCINDOR: Not a month? It’s not been a month? (Laughter.)
MR. COSTA: The week has felt like a month. But rest up, it’s going to be a long marathon.
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. You can listen wherever you get your podcasts or watch on our Washington Week website. While you’re online check out the Washington Week-ly News Quiz. I’m Robert Costa. Thanks for joining us. See you next time.